Kelly's Walk-Off Homer Secures Series for Cal

Photo: Junior Taylor Kelly drops down a bunt during Cal's win over Stanford on Friday. Kelly ended the series with a walk-off homer in game three.
Anna Vignet/Photo
Junior Taylor Kelly drops down a bunt during Cal's win over Stanford on Friday. Kelly ended the series with a walk-off homer in game three.

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Taylor Kelly got her chance to fulfill every ballplayer's dream -- packed crowd, bottom of the last inning, tie game and it was her turn at the plate.

From here, the details of the dream only get better for the Cal softball team's shortstop.

The opponent: No. 2 Stanford. The score: 6-6. The series: tied at one apiece.

With one swift swing of the bat, Kelly sent a long line drive just over the wall in center field for a two-run, walk-off home run to send the Cardinal home, 8-6, on Saturday afternoon at Levine-Fricke Field.

"This is my best moment at Cal so far," Kelly said.

But the dream almost came at the price that is every player's nightmare -- a late-inning collapse.

Early on, it seemed too good to be true for the No. 17 Bears as they began laying into Missy Penna. Stanford's nationally honored pitcher didn't have her stuff on Saturday, both literally and figuratively.

Penna, who forgot to bring her No. 9 jersey to the game, wore No. 22 and didn't pitch like her usual self.

The senior was exposed for three runs early and was removed after only 1 1/3 innings of work, marking the first time this season that she has been pulled from a game without going five innings.

Sophomore Valerie Arioto started on the mound for Cal (28-12, 5-4 in the Pac-10) after pitching two innings of relief in Thursday night's 4-1 loss to the Cardinal and a complete game on Friday in the Bears' 3-1 win.

By the fifth inning on Saturday, Arioto began to look tired. But with the health of pitcher Marissa Drewrey's wrist in question, Cal coach Diane Ninemire decided to have her sophomore hurler see this one through.

"As she matures as a pitcher, she needs to know that we can have a big lead, maybe lose it, and then be able to stick in there and come back," Ninemire said. "Val is a real competitor and she earned this win."

Even though the Cardinal batters began to make contact with her pitches earlier in counts, Arioto was still able to work Stanford (34-4, 6-3) down to its last three outs, up 6-1.

It was during those last three outs that the Bears' defense almost fatally unraveled.

In the top of the seventh, Cal's three errors -- including Kelly's third of the game -- helped to propel the Cardinal back into the game for a 6-6 tie.

"I know, being a player and knowing that you are causing your team to lose a lead, it's never a good feeling inside," Ninemire said. "She hung in there and was dealing with it. And it was really important for her that she was able to get back the runs that she helped give up."

So when Kelly cracked the game-winning homer in the bottom half of the seventh, the storybook ending was as much a relief from a nightmare as it was the ending to a dream.

"I was struggling really bad," Kelly said, holding her home-run ball. "I wasn't playing the best on the field and I let (the team) down a lot. That was my one chance to work towards paying them back."


Contact Joseph Cannon at [email protected]

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